In 1975 a young Swiss sports journalist-turned marketing man, Sepp Blatter first took the position of general secretary at the head office of the world football governing body, FIFA. He worked his way through FIFA’s corporate ladder and in the process learnt how to sell soccer to the corporate world and ultimately organised World Cup tournaments.
Blatter was elected FIFA president on June 1988 in Zurich and has been reelected for the past 17 years. During this time, Blatter’s love for Africa has grown so much that FIFA soon rolled out programmes that benefited Africa as a whole. Rich overseas clubs also started to unearth talent in Africa. And iconic African stars like Roger Miller, Samuel Et’oo and Didier Drogba came to the fore. Through football, war-torn nations like Ivory Coast managed to regain peace. Their star player, Drogba even donated his royalties accumulated from his trade to build schools and hospitals in his native country.
Africa has benefited a lot from Blatter’s initiatives, and some high profile African football personalities have received the news of his resignation with mixed feelings. For Kalusha Bwalwa, president of Football Association of Zambia and a standing committee member at FIFA and CAF, Blatter’s resignation is a blow for African football. He told BG Sports that Blatter’s interventions brought a lot of developments to African football. “He always treated Africa as his second home,” he said, adding that, overall Blatter worked hard and diligently for Africa and football in general. “He deserves credit for this,” he said. Thomas Kwanaite, a co-presenter of Soccer Africa at Supersport has a different opinion about Blatter’s resignation, saying it was in the best interest of football’s progress. “We cannot have nine of his members arrested and six accused and for the past years there have been allegations of corruption while for 24 years he has turned a blind eye to these,” he said. He said that FIFA has allocated projects like Win in Africa for Africa and that these were not Blatter’s initiatives but FIFA’s. “His resignation does not mean that these projects will stop,” he said.
FIFA development officer Ashford Mamelodi told BG Sports from Geneva that “President Sepp Blatter’s legacy as a champion for football development throughout the world since joining FIFA is common cause.” He said that his “solid” legacy included financial assistance programmes that benefitted member associations since 1999 - a year into his first presidency. Mamelodi also referred to the Goal Projects as well as the bringing of the first World Cup to Africa as some of the things he will be remembered for. Now Blatter says he wants to reform FIFA before he leaves office. It remains to be seen whether CAF president Issa Hayatou will stand for the FIFA election that is expected to be called between December and March 2016. In 2002 he ran and lost against Blatter in the presidential elections with European backing, receiving 56 votes to Blatter’s 139.
The 68-year-old Cameroonian will obviously have the support of many Africa’s member associations and could carry the support of Blatter loyalists should he stand. Since 1999, FIFA created the Goal Project programmes which funded and concluded more than 1 000 football projects all over the world, Africa and Botswana included. The programmes financed members to construct football pitches and training facilities which supported league development and participation in international qualifying competitions. The Lekidi Center in Gaborone is one of such projects. Blatter’s initiatives were meant for the global development of football. Coincidentally, Blatter was first elected FIFA president in 1988, the same year that Hayatou was also elected president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Both men and CAF member associations have been staunch allies throughout the years. Those close to Blatter say that his relationship with Hayatou has always been a cord too strong to break. This was evidenced by developments this year, after the African outbreak of Ebola disease which engulfed most of West Africa leading to Morocco’s withdrawal from hosting the CAF tournament. A compromise was urgently struck so that the finals could take place. Equatorial Guinea hosted the showpiece and Blatter arrived with a bagful of goodies in Africa to sell his candidacy for the FIFA presidency ahead of what many thought would be a tightly-contested race. It however came as a shock when less than a week after his re-election, the 79-year old Swiss resigned his lucrative position.